Korean Americans Find a Home in Fullerton

My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2008

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Amerige Heights [in Orange County,California], just like the villages in Irvine and the newer housing tracts of Tustin, has become a destination for Asian Americans, drawn by high-performing schools, relatively crime-free neighborhoods and good jobs. According to recently released U.S. Census data, the Asian population in every city with available data in Orange County has gone up. Countywide, the Asian population has increased roughly 16% since 2000, a much faster rate than the Latino population and in the opposite direction of the white population, which has dropped nearly 8%.

Fullerton, once a traditionally white bedroom community in northern Orange County, has seen growing numbers of Asians moving into its middle-class neighborhoods such as Amerige Heights, where real estate agents estimate more than half of the residents are of Korean descent. To cater to them, smaller Korean churches have sprouted in the area, such as Crossway Community Church in Brea. Korean parents even started a Korean PTA at Sunny Hills High School, where Asian Americans make up half of the student body.

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Fullerton is now 21% Asian American—a 35% jump since 2000, according to detailed U.S. Census data that averages surveys from 2005 to 2007. The increase puts Fullerton among the cities with the fastest growing Asian American populations in Southern California.

The numbers are further proof of Orange County’s accelerating diversification—Irvine, one of the model master-planned communities, is now dotted with Buddhist temples, Chinese banks and Asian grocery stores; central Orange County is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of the country of Vietnam; and Santa Ana has one of the largest Latino populations in the nation.

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Koreans make up the second largest Asian ethnic group in Orange County, after Vietnamese. But unlike Vietnamese refugees who built the thriving business enclave of Westminster’s Little Saigon, where block after block is filled with Vietnamese mom-and-pop shops, the imprint of Korean Americans has been far more gradual.

In Fullerton, there are no overwhelmingly Korean enclaves or neighborhoods. Instead, pockets of Korean bakeries, travel agencies, banks and markets have taken root.

Korean entrepreneurs are purchasing entire shopping centers in Fullerton and remaking them, such as an old Pavilions market that gave way to a Korean travel agency and tutoring center, said John Godlewski, Fullerton’s community development director. He predicts the future will bring similar developments catering to Asian Americans.

“I’m getting calls from some of the older neighbors saying, ‘We cannot read the signs. It’s not written in English,’” Godlewski said. “People see things are changing, that they are not the way they used to be.”

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